Seeing your true colours isn’t always pretty.
I’ve just caught a bus from Reno to Sacramento, and have a three hour layover here before another bus that’ll get me to Redding. I had planned on visiting a cinema to watch Christopher Robin. Instead, a spur of the moment decision led me to open up my Beanhunter app, find the best coffee in town, and head there for some quiet time.
Google Maps showed me a route to get to Temple Coffee & Tea along the main roads. It was fairly direct, but I could see it wasn’t the quickest way from A to B.
So I set off down the quickest way, of course.
I turned a corner, lifting my head from my phone screen to see sleeping bags, shopping carts, and people littered down the sidewalks on both sides of a potholed road.
I stopped in my tracks. My head spun quickly with fears and imagined scenes of theft, or kidnap, or worse. Hair prickled on the back of my neck as I stood on that corner.
I felt unsafe. Nervous. Afraid, even.
And then I looked at that feeling.
I didn’t fight it, or shove it down. I inspected it, held it up to the light, and wondered why it was inside of me.
I didn’t like what I saw under that spotlight:
Racism. Bigotry. Discrimination. Assumption. Elitism.
My fear of walking amongst these people was rooted in ideas and lies planted there by media. By society. By the fear of other small minded people.
I’m not ignorant; there are definitely some streets that aren’t necessarily ‘safe’ to walk down. I just wasn’t so nervous about this one, anymore. I asked Jesus real quick if it was wiser to turn around and walk the longer route Google had proposed, and I received a swift reminder that he had spent his days walking down streets interacting with all sorts of people – outcasts, mostly – people that the world rejected and overlooked and was afraid of. People that lined the very streets he walked down.
I imagined it was similar to the scene I was facing.
So I walked forward.
And I was met with smile after smile. I looked every person I passed in the eye, and saw friendly twinkles in them all.
“I like your hat!”
“Good afternoon, miss!”
“That’s a pretty dress!”
“Nice stick you’ve got there!”
One of them, Lonny, even asked if he could take a video of me so he wouldn’t forget me. He said he had something he wanted me to remember, and asked if I’d take a video of him, too:
(Posted with his permission)
Who was I to have been scared of these people? And just because they’re homeless? Dirty? Poor?
I’M HOMELESS! I’M DIRTY!
And I may not be as financially strained as some here, but I’m certainly on a tight budget.
I moved out of my Lennox address more than four months ago. I’ve been walking along the PCT for over one hundred days. And apart from a handful of nights spent under the roofs of friends or hostels, I’ve been sleeping under stars each night, just like these folks.
Geez, I probably look like I fit in here more than I do back on those main streets anyway! With my dirty pack, floral dress, unquestionably ragged shoes, big hat and Wilson the walking stick, I reckon these guys thought I was ‘one of them’.
They wouldn’t be wrong.
My only argument is one of semantics: it shouldn’t be a matter of me being a part of ‘their world’ or them being a part of ‘my world’. We’re all one and the same. I’m no better than anyone here because I have more money in my account. They’re no less than I because their belongings are stored in a shopping cart.
The warmth I saw radiating from the smiles of those I passed gave stark contrast to the workings of my own mind just a few minutes previously.
Instead of nerves because of this crowd, I felt welcomed. I felt ashamed.
It’s not a comfortable realisation. Still, I’m thankful I came to it.
These moments, these lessons are a privilege.
How grateful I am to have this time to walk, to learn, to grow. How grateful I am to have already had so much time to walk, to reflect, to be open; where I can see and learn such lessons instead of listening to ingrained fear and turning around to find a ‘safer, easier’ way.
I reckon that street just made me a better person.
I think Jesus does, too:
“Why would you focus on the flaw in someone else’s life and yet fail to notice the glaring flaws of your own?”
Matthew 7:3, The Passion Translation
I hope that next time I turn a corner and see sleeping bags, shopping carts, and people littered down the sidewalks on both sides of a potholed road, I won’t skip a beat: I’ll slow down and get ready to meet all the smiles ahead of me with a big one of my own.